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Tom Ryan delivers paper at Catholic Theological Society Convention

June 20, 2008

On June 6, Tom Ryan, director of the Loyola Institute for Ministry, delivered a paper titled, “Generation from the Margins: Tradition in the Work of Leonard Cohen” in the Practical Theology section at the 63rd Annual Convention of the Catholic Theological Society of America.

Ryan argued that, because of its interdisciplinarity, practical theology is well suited for discerning goodness in popular culture and for seeing it as an extra-ecclesial agent of tradition. With images and music, Ryan made his case in terms of poet and singer Leonard Cohen. Born Jewish but influenced by a Catholic nanny, Cohen claims to have been brought up “part Catholic.” Later he characterized his poetry as “lewd, offensive, and full of Christological implications.” Indeed, his lyrics’ eroticism and its ambiguous use of pronouns hearken back to medieval Song of Songs commentary. His words point beyond the human to convey the intimacy of human-divine relations and open a space for God to address and be addressed with words of love. On top of this, Cohen layers a deep sense of human brokenness. Thus, Cohen alternates between the debased and the sublime, as if the debased could, incarnationally, convey the sublime.

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